Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Outer-Memphis Cheese Club: Frisco, TX

I'm not sure how I survived.  The inaugural meeting of the Outer-Memphis Cheese Club reminds me that I am lucky to have made it out the other side in one piece.

On a previous trip to the Dallas area, my friend and colleague Carla invited me to her house for dinner.  Sitting at the table with her youngest, Tori, the three of us make small talk while Carla works on dinner.  Carla places a bowl of shredded cheese on the table near me and when she isn't looking, I take a pinch and put it in my mouth.  Tori was looking.  So a few minutes later, she does the same thing and - busted - mom catches her.  When Carla tells Tori to stop, I explain it is my fault, I did it first but that I just love cheese so much I couldn't help it.

"I love cheese too", Tori says, "I am in a cheese club."  I ask if I can join.  She says no.  Then she begins to explain the complex reasons beginning with, "You have to go to Memphis".  What?  Why Memphis?  No satisfactory answer is forthcoming.  I continue to plead my case as Carla's oldest, Charlotte, comes in and wants to know what we are talking about.  When I tell her, she says she also wants to be in a cheese club so that seals it, Charlotte and I decide to form our own club right then.  Tori isn't happy with us and now wants to be in our club.  I tell her that I will get with the other members (currently just Charlotte) and we will vote on it and let her know.  When the middle of Carla's three girls, Caroline, comes home, we let her in the club.  Tori is never given a decision  regarding her pending membership on that trip.

But now, I am coming back and Carla and I have decided to surprise the girls with a cheese club meeting and I have the perfect name: The Outer-Memphis Cheese Club.  My customer's office is right next to a specialty grocery store so on the way out of town, I stop and pick up supplies:  7 types of cheese (Smoked Gouda, Edam, Dublinger, Manchego, Kickapoo Blue, Camembert and Lemon Goat); 3 jams (Fig, Pricky Pear and Super Fruit); 2 kinds of crackers; honey; butter cookies; and most important, an assortment of chocolate truffles.  Carla has agreed to supply the venue and the beverages.

When I arrive Carla and I set about making a nice layout.  She has nice dishes and platters out and even champagne glasses for the girls for the sparkling grape juice (which 2 of the girls happily don't like, leaving most of the bottle for me). 

Someone is very interested in testing the truffles and I almost caught them in the act.  Ironically, Carla also picked up chocolates.  Great minds.  It is an impressive spread.  There are also meatballs, two kinds of smoked sausage and Hawaiian rolls.
While waiting on Tony, Carla's husband and our only male member, to get home we decide to come up with some club rules.  And because Caroline immediately sits down next to me and starts to write them down, she is voted in as our club secretary.
  1. You can refuse to try 2 items per meeting.
  2. There must be chocolate at all cheese club meetings.
  3. All meetings must have a minimum of 4 cheeses.
  4. There will be at least one new cheese at each meeting.
  5. If you are late to the meeting, you forfeit your chocolates.
  6. You are not allowed to cut the cheese during the cheese meeting.
Carla made us some sheets where we could rate each item.  We would also go around the table and read our comments out loud.  The plan was to try each cheese at the same time but some of the members were very impatient and/or invoked their "no try" clauses.  Here is Caroline's rate sheet.
As the comments are read by the girls, they read it all.  So for example, when Caroline reads her comments for Kickapoo Blue we hear:  Makes me want to barf exclamation point frowny face broken heart exclamation point frowny face broken heart.  When we get to the next one, Camembert, that practice has to be discontinued.
Struggles - like this one over the comments being read - begin to break out.  The girls generally want us to go faster and not worry about telling our comments.  Tony is very detailed in his comments (all of the comment sheets are at the end of this post) and some of the girls grow agitated and impatient...there are chocolates waiting.  They complain, they yell at each other.  One of the girls reveals herself to be something of a "scorekeeper", taking me back to my own days as the mother of 3 young children.  My daughter would count the donuts in the Mrs. Baird's bag of powdered sugar donuts and inform the rest of us how many we were allowed to have.  Never mind that I purchased said donuts.  There are issues with the seating arrangements at one point because two of the girls can't sit by each other.  David and I regularly heard, "Blake's looking at me".  You try not to freak out after the 35th time and scream, "IF YOU WEREN'T LOOKING AT HIM YOU WOULDN'T KNOW HE WAS LOOKING AT YOU". 
So when I say I'm not sure how I survived, I don't mean the cheese club meeting.  I mean my own days as a full-time parent.  Being at Carla's always reminds me of how hard it could be at times to have three so close together.  There was an article (click here to see I am not making this up) on Today's website I read that says 3 is the most stressful number of kids to have.  The number both Carla and I have.
Me and my kids at Six Flags.  They are roughly the ages in this photo that Carla's kids are today.  The big difference is me.  Carla is two years younger than me and this photo was taken more than 15 years ago.  My kids are 23, 24 & 26 now.  I have three grandkids.  One of those grandkids is only a year younger than Tori, Carla's youngest child.
Don't get me wrong, Carla & Tony are great parents and they have great kids.  But being a part of the noise and chaos that inevitably go along with family life reminds me of how hard it can be some days.  And I don't envy them.  I can't help thinking "Thank God my kids are grown".  At my house it is clean, no school books and backpacks laying around.  It is quiet.  When I am at home working during the day, David is at work and the only noise at my house is the dull hum of the electronics or the heating/air conditioning, or if I choose, the radio in my office.  Every now and then, the dog barks. 
So I watch Carla and Tony and I know what they are going through and I know where they are headed.  They have some fun and wonderful and hard years ahead.  The teenage years.  Middle School (the worst in our book) and High School.  And I hope that someday, like us, they enjoy their empty nest days.  Some people think I am mean or cold when I say that I don't miss the days of my kids living at home.  I love my kids.  I did it all back then while also working full time:  coached softball, attended PTA (even ran the clothes closet for a while), took them to church and sports practices and games and dance recitals and choir concerts.  Parent-teacher meetings.  Chicken Pox. Head Lice. Birthday Parties, and trick-or-treating, Valentine's boxes, playing Santa.  They have their own lives to lead now and I so do I.  I had my first child when I was barely 19 and all three before I turned 23.  I don't think it is wrong to want this part of my life to be for me.  I think I earned it.
After the meeting I had the great idea for us to play Apples to Apples but unfortunately, things continued to deteriorate.  People's feelings get hurt when their answer doesn't win.  Some of us are hyped up on chocolate and sparkling grape juice.  Someone is hungry.  Finally, after the second game (which we played with sped up rules), the girls are sent upstairs to bed.  We are all participating in a 5k in the morning so they need to get some rest, wink, wink.  I go to the guest room and close the door.  Once the noise upstairs dies down, I hear Carla come downstairs and she approaches my door and stops.  Listening for sound I assume.  I don't make any. 
If she had heard me up, she might have felt obligated to entertain me further but I need to be alone in the quiet of this room now.  And I consider this a gift to her as well.  While the kids are quiet and she has the opportunity, I hope she goes and enjoys a moment with Tony, or a long, hot bath or a chapter of a book.  Whatever makes her happy.  Because tomorrow, there will be one that doesn't want to go to the run at all, people will have tummy troubles and other assorted ailments, Tori will get her finger smashed in a recycle bin by Caroline - allegedly at least - and there will be crying and accusations. 
But there will also be breakfast with warm syrup and laughing after hugs and high-fives at the finish line.
I think Carla summed up our first meeting perfectly: "Eating cheese can be a really messy business".  But she and I both know she isn't just talking about cheese.
Me and the junior members of the club:  Caroline (bottom left), Charlotte (top left) and Tori (right).
Rate sheets for the rest of the club, if you are interested:
Carla, the club treasurer
Tony was so detailed in his responses that when he wasn't in the room, 3 of the 4 remaining members voted for him to be our club president.  Tori was NOT happy.  She wanted to be president.  We pointed to her rate sheet as the reason she couldn't be...
We eventually made her sergeant at arms and I try to convince her it lets her boss people around.
Vice President Charlotte
Me - Historian, of course


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Harber Wildlife Museum: Sherman, TX

On a recent business trip, I walked into a bank in Sherman, Texas and was not prepared for what I was about to be confronted by.

An Elk head.  And he isn't hung very high, I am 5'10" and you can see how close he is to me.  And he isn't alone.
There are other Elk and some other animal head and a whole animal too.  As I run the gauntlet of dead animals, I make my way to the lobby of the bank, stupidly unprepared for what awaits there.
A lion guarding the Christmas Tree.  There are several other full size taxidermy animals in the lobby.
That cheetah over on the far wall seems pretty chill about this situation.  I on the other hand am a little freaked out.
The male half of the owners of this collection is the President (or CEO? whatever) of this bank.  His and his wife's sizable gun collection are in a case in the lobby.  I suppose that nothing says "I will keep your money safe" like my large collection of guns and the creatures I have taken down with them watching you as you transact your business.
I really want to ask if this branch has ever been robbed but I hear David's disapproving voice in my head.  This might be like asking a TSA agent at the airport if they have ever seen a bomb when they are checking out your boarding pass.  Once, when I was sitting next to the door on the over-wing exit row, I asked David (a licensed airplane mechanic) what would happen if I tried to open the door.  He looked at me with a mixture of horror and annoyance.  I think he was regretting his decision to take the aisle seat at that moment.  We were cruising along at like 37,000 feet so maybe that was part of his concern.  Maybe the fact that I had recently asked what he thought this bored policeman who was directing traffic would do if I tried to grab his gun when we walked by made some difference in his reaction.  But really, I am just curious.  But maybe I should keep my curiosity to myself so instead I mention to an employee that I have never seen anything quite like this and they proceed to tell me about the museum down the street that contains the animals that wouldn't fit in these peoples homes (plural) or the bank. 
Harber Wildlife Museum is indeed not far down the street.  It was voted the "Best Museum in Texoma" in 2012, 2013 & 2014.  For those of you that don't know, Texoma refers to a general region where Texas and Oklahoma touch. Sherman is about an hour from the border.  None of the Texoma region contains any really big cities so I am not thinking the competition was very stiff.  They are only open for 2 hours on Friday, the day I am here and on weekends.  Admission is a "$5 donation" for anyone over 12 but I assume you can't just walk around if you decide you don't want to donate.
They are not overrun with visitors according to the log.  Several people from Oklahoma visited on the 22nd of November, AFTER a couple of Texans on the 29th.  I can hear David now saying something about Oklahomans not being able to tell time or something like that.  One of David's many jokes:  Why doesn't Texas fall into the Gulf of Mexico?  Because Oklahoma sucks. 
I am there right at 3 pm when they open and there is one other car in the parking lot I am going to assume belongs to the employee.  When he opens the door for me a few minutes after 3, he seems a little surprised to see me.  "Got anything for me?" he says.  I tell him I have $5 I will give him.  He backs up so I can enter and says, "Okay, but let me turn on the sounds first."
As you walk through the museum there are animal sounds coming out of the speakers in the ceiling.  The lady at the bank told me this is an old Furr's Cafeteria.  There are multiple rooms to the museum.
The largest, and the one you enter first, is Africa.
It is hard not to begin by looking at the giraffe with his tongue out.
There are signs asking you not to touch the animals (or the "snow" - their quotes, not mine) but you can walk right up to them (lots of signs that you are being recorded and watched are all around the museum).  This is probably the closest I will ever get to the ass end of a giraffe.  At least I hope that is the case.
The room is square and there is an aisle all the way around with displays in the middle and along the walls.  A large variety of animals are in posed in groups.
This lion is being attacked.
This one is attacking.  All of them are posed in what I assume is supposed to be a realistic looking diorama but I find it a little sad and cheesy personally.  Someone at the bank said the local college painted all of the backgrounds.
The realism loses something from that drop ceiling and poorly done fake foliage.
The signs along the railing give information about the animal.  A lady at the bank said that the couple donate all of the meat from the animals they kill to local tribes.
This is Guenther's Dik-Dik.  He is smaller than my dog.  Not a lot of meat there.  Some of the animals here make me question that whole statement.
Now, since I am an American who has never been outside the country, I don't claim to know much about the food habits of other people of the world but do people really eat baboon?  And the "Fun Fact" for this rare white lion was that the local tribes consider them sacred.  Do they eat sacred animals?
Okay hunters, get ready because here it comes.  I have a problem with this.  I am actually a little annoyed with myself for what in my mind is donating $5 for these people to continue doing this.  I am sure my $5 is of little significance to these people who obviously have a lot of money to burn but still.  I think that when hunters say they donate the meat to the local tribe in some effort to minimize the criticism they receive it is just a justification for them to do what they would do anyway.  I am not a hunter and would never be one unless there was a catastrophic event such as nuclear winter that required me to hunt to survive.  When I lived in Texas I didn't think much about animals, wild or otherwise.  I had two dogs.  I saw squirrels in my yard.  Once a dead possum.  Some hawks had loud sex in the tree outside my office window.  I saw dead armadillos on the road and raced one at a company event.  I could go to the zoo to see something more exotic.  But after moving to Montana, I see wild animals I never dreamed I would see in person right outside my door.  Owls.  Eagles.  Deer frequently pass through our yard.  I have seen Elk herds.  The time I saw a moose, I yelled so loud and scared David so bad I think he thought he might have a heart attack.  Normally I am rendered incapable of coherent speech when I see something.  I have gotten better and I don't freak out or lose the capacity for speech as much now but I am still in total awe of the wildlife here.  And I never want to see it mounted on my wall, or anyone else's for that matter.  I want to see them where they the wild.
And before you get all judgy and start sending me ugly comments, I realize I can't change anyone's opinion so you should be prepared to find me unwilling to change or be moved by those comments.  Since moving here - to the wild west filled with more cammo and guns and ammo than I have ever been exposed to - I have mostly given up eating meat.  Yes, I occasionally still do and I eat fish occasionally and egg here and there and yes, I know that makes me something of a hypocrite.  It is a process.  You don't realize how meatcentric our society is until you try to stop eating it.  I had to order off the kids menu twice in the same day once because nothing on the adult menu was vegetarian or could be made that way by omitting something.
And lets clear something up.  I am not against all hunting.  I am against hunting as a sport.  I am against killing a living creature to put its dead body on display.
Enough of that now, back to the museum.  I almost called it The Chamber of Horrors here but really, why beat a dead horse? 
Some of the animals are not whole.  This elephant head is coming out of a stone chimney.  There was also a rhino head in a another room and a full zebra skin tacked to the wall next to the theatre.  And I don't know anything about taxidermy but some of the animals seem off to me.
Does he look bored?  Uncomfortable with the position of his neck?  Resigned to his position and fate?  Unhappy to be dead?  I'm not sure.
And mini-bambi there seems very unconcerned that he is so near to two predators.  I do find it interesting that a few of the informational signs list "humans" in the Predators/Threats section but many do not even though these animals were clearly killed by humans.  Some list "loss of habitat" as a threat - I think that might be code for "humans".
I got close up to this lion face and am a little concerned there might be a little "Night at the Museum" action going on because he seems to have eaten something recently and is in need of a napkin.  Time to check out another room.
On the way I see the couple responsible for this museum posing with elephant tusks and their bows, which are also on display.  Of course, she is wearing an animal print blouse.
There is also an entire hall dedicated to their annual Christmas Card photo which the note says was "loved" so much by their friends and family after that first one that they kept the tradition.  Each framed and enlarged copy shows them and lists the location, some in the US, several in Africa, a few in other places.  Thankfully they are usually just posing in a campsite and not holding up the head of the animal they just killed like the photos on display at our local Cabela's when you enter the building.
There is a section devoted to animals I am familiar with from my current home.  The moose I saw in person was a female (with her calf).  I haven't yet seen a bull moose in person but I really want to.  This doesn't count.
This bear seems to want to tell me something.  Probably "get out while you can".
There is a room dedicated to artifacts that I assume they collected in their travels.  Some of the pieces were interesting but they were poorly marked, unlike the animals.  If they had 15 Dik-Diks, there was a sign every single time.
There is also a theatre (playing Planet Earth) and a room with desks where you can look at books about hunting and animals.  There are also a bunch of books with notes from children who have been here on school trips.  I thought this was a good drawing of the giraffe.  He seems adequately unhappy to be here.  Note that the kid left out the drop ceiling and bad plastic foliage and tried to throw the giraffe a bone by drawing him back outside in the sunshine.  Where he belongs.
I learn while I am here that the museum "is Dorothy's" according to the man at the front desk.  This is confirmed by a sign I see later that shows she has "realized a dream" and I also learn there are more animals on display at the local mall (no, I'm not going to verify that).  She also notes that "this is just the beginning".  At the end there is a very small note on wildlife conservation and what you can do to help.  Things like not poaching.  This seems a little insincere after walking through the museum and seeing their handiwork (I'm not accusing them of poaching) and in the placement of the sign at the very end along with its small size.  They also sell t-shirts and encourage you to "buy one for the whole family".  They are $15 and I do not buy one.  I have contributed all I plan to on these people and their endeavors.  Except this post.  I guess this is technically a contribution.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to take my weapon of choice and go see if there are any deer passing through my backyard that need to be dealt with.
My weapon of choice in this case was a Canon Rebel xsi.  I "shot" this buck at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville, MT, near my home.  I love going there but these people need a dictionary.  Hunting is allowed at certain times and in certain areas.  That word, REFUGE.
As Inigo Montoya said in The Princess Bride:  "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."